Join the dots between customer experiences, company values, and storytelling to deliver branded marketing content that prospects can really connect with using my favourite content marketing rule.
“These are not my scars. These are not my bruises. These are not my cuts. These are my medals of honour.”
Rewind to 2019. It was the third morning of HubSpot’s annual inbound marketing conference, INBOUND, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson’s compelling keynote had just left me with goosebumps. Around me, thousands of other attendees sat transfixed. The atmosphere was solemn, even reverential. Hollie, our marketing manager, was willing to let me share that she welled up three times.
As listeners, we were moved by Bryan’s stories and the social issues they brought to life, but it was the unspoken things that his anecdotes revealed about his initiative — the spaces in between his stories — which really struck a chord. Three years on, I still think about them.
“We are the sum of our stories. That’s as true of you and your personal experiences as it is your business.”
Your brand values. The journey you’ve taken to get to where you are today. The challenges you’ve helped your customers to overcome and the ethos hanging like the North Star over everything your business does. These all speak to who you are and what you care about.
And as the industry talks more and more about building meaningful relationships with your customers and delivering great customer experiences, I’m more convinced than ever that stories in the form of narrative-driven content marketing are key to achieving this.
Whether you’re new to content marketing or you have a mature content division, harnessing storytelling can help you to share your company’s truth, generate the right kinds of leads and build the meaningful customer relationships your brand needs to grow. Let’s look at how.
Just dipping your toes into content strategy? The Beginner’s Guide to Content Strategy and Implementation will help.
My favourite content marketing rule: stop telling, start showing
More and more, people want to buy from businesses that they feel represent their core values and beliefs.
“Over half (52%) of people in the US say it is important that the brands they purchase from have values aligning with their own.” 2021 Consumer Intel Report, ‘Rise of the socially conscious consumer’
But there’s a big difference between telling a potential prospect you value something and proving it. And as a general scepticism towards branded communications increases, fuelled by social phenomena like ‘fake news’ and corporate virtue signalling, that gulf has grown.
What’s a brand that genuinely cares about Pride, mental health or environmentalism to do when its claims fall on disbelieving ears?
In prolific Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov’s words, “you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam, a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball”.
“In other words, don’t just tell your customers and prospects you care about something. Show them in such a way that they feel the brand in their bones.”
Stories stir us in a way that facts, figures, and even the boldest advertising claims simply can’t. They draw us in and take us away. A good story can move minds as readily as it can generate revenue. A great story will accomplish both. It’s one thing to tell your readers you support Pride Month and another to paint a picture of your fundraising initiatives, the time your team has volunteered, how those efforts have made your LGBTQ+ employees or other members of the community feel, as well as your roadmap of continued support for the future.
This doesn’t just apply to charity work and social values. Today, your company’s values, its approach, and the ethos baked into your teams can be key differentiators. Your best customers will be people, or the brands they represent, who share those values. Content becomes so much more meaningful when a reader can feel those values running through it.
“Reflecting on the past and our shared culture truths are the most efficient ways for a brand to both tell its story and transcend our insane content ecosystem.” Elizabeth Giorgi, founder and CEO of Mighteor, INBOUND 2019
Three examples of ‘show, don’t tell’
Consider the following examples from our own blog archives:
- The article ‘31 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring an Inbound Marketing Agency’ and the anecdote therein celebrates what it means to be inquisitive, communicating the importance of the value to us as well as its benefit to the reader. Questions open our eyes to who we are and where we want to be, and that’s incredibly valuable, especially when what you’re looking at is your company’s future.
- In ‘How to Roll Out a CRM Across Your Business (And Make Sure Sales Is On Board With It)’, we’re transparent with the reader about the challenges of launching a new CRM. Yes, we can set you up with HubSpot’s awesome CRM technology, but there’s likely more to fixing your sales process than a new piece of software. The way we see it, we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the challenges to come — and help the reader overcome them.
- I’m drafting another article on business storytelling as we speak. If my continued writing in this area doesn’t communicate the inextinguishable passion I feel for this subject, I don’t know what does.
On their own, each of these articles speaks to the company values we hold dear. But they’re not positioned as ‘Why Curiosity/Transparency/Passion is Important to BabelQuest’ or ‘How Our Core Values Have Helped Us Become an Elite-tier HubSpot solutions partner’.
The focus remains on genuinely helpful content that provides value to the reader; we’ve just made sure to ground it in our experiences and write it in our voice to get across who we are, what we value, and why we care in a way that genuinely resonates with our target readers.
TO DO: Identify the values at the core of your brand story. What do they mean to you, why are they important, and how have they helped shape you as a brand and a company?
Fourteen novelists, content creators, journalists and storytellers share their top tips for better business storytelling.
Four places to find your company’s stories
One of the most common objections I hear is “no one’s interested in our company story”. Another? “Our content is too technical or product-focused.” My favourite? “Our industry is too boring.” Well, good news. To paraphrase Gabriela Pereira, founder of writing coach DIY MFA, “Stories are everywhere if you just know where to look.”
Let’s take a B2B industry with a relatively dry reputation — say, a forklift truck manufacturer. You’re releasing a new line of vehicles designed specifically to improve operator safety and you’ve turned to your marketing team to help promote them.
You could write a promotional article talking all about your new product and its benefits, and this might well be a helpful piece of content aimed at readers close to buying, but it’s unlikely to catch many eyes in your newsfeed and it’s not going to resonate emotionally with anyone.
Or you could write a piece looking at the core of the issue — operator safety — and how this is really impacting your buyers.
As little as 30 minutes of research might reveal some relevant statistics about, say, the percentage increase in operator accidents over the last X years. If you’re thinking ‘story’, this is where your mind lights up:
- What could the operators who’ve had workplace accidents share with you about the nature of those accidents and the impacts they had on their lives, never mind their ability to work?
- What stories could material handling or health and safety managers share that reveal the impact forklift truck accidents have had on productivity, team morale, legal costs, and their operations as a whole?
- Within your own company, what stories could your product development managers share in terms of what operator safety means to them and why it was such a central tenet when designing the new range of vehicles?
- In this example, operator safety is clearly something that really matters to the forklift truck manufacturer — what could the C-suite share on the subject to really highlight this very human, relatable value at the core of their company? What does the safety of their customers mean to them and how has it shaped their business?
Interviews with any one of these sources, backed up by statistics and explored across a variety of forms, could be worked into a piece of content that takes a long, hard look at the issue of operator safety, providing ample opportunity to reference the company’s new product line naturally in the text and a clear context for the guiding principles that informed its design.
What better way to promote a product than to illustrate — through storytelling — the difference it will make to your buyers’ lives, in this case, the health and wellbeing it promotes and the accidents it could prevent?
TO DO: Map out every story source you can think of. Think about your company mission, your products, your philosophy, your industry, your people, your customers, and even your location. Pick out highs — and lows — from your company’s history, seminal events that mark a milestone or changed how you operate. Share your culture.
On business storytelling and collaboration
Crafting content around your brand’s stories takes tact on behalf of the writer, courage on behalf of the owners or directors, and trust between the interviewee and the writer.
I’m incredibly fortunate to work for two such founders, both of whom are willing, transparent, and open (honestly, the challenge is sometimes getting Eric to stop telling stories), and I can’t wait to build on what we’re already doing together in 2021 to take this to the next level.
On the client side of the fence, this is why one of the first things I talk about when chatting with a prospect is the partnership aspect underpinning our content services. Storytelling is a beautiful demonstration of collaboration in action, but collaboration takes (at least) two.
- A strong sense of partnership promotes accountability, so both the interviewee and the writer have a clear idea of their responsibilities, deadlines, and involvement.
- It engenders trust and confidence essential to storytelling and wider content success.
- It promotes collaboration and creativity. I strongly believe that the success of our content plans is in part due to the fact that we work with our clients to garner key insights and develop drafts, as opposed to simply jumping when asked how high.
For your content strategy to get the green light, whoever is sharing their stories with you in your business needs to feel the same level of trust, commitment, and transparency. This is key to overcoming the vulnerability many people feel when opening up about themselves.
“We are called to turn the mundane into something interesting. Do this well and your brand will resonate deeply with your audiences, an authenticity that is transcendent.” Elizabeth Giorgi, founder and CEO, Mighteor
Getting this right will transform storytelling from a source of apprehension into a phenomenal opportunity to show the world what your brand stands for and the real value you offer.
TO DO: Build trust and test the waters by running a pilot. As Ravi Jain, senior associate director of digital media and web development at Boston College, explains it, “create an article or a short video in isolation to see where the friction is in your content production process, gauge time and cost restraints, determine resource allocation, and test your concept in a safe environment. Turn it into a living, breathing thing. Get feedback.”
Every brand has the potential to tell great stories
Telling stories in such a way that the mundane becomes interesting, dare I say special, takes skill and practice. But crafts can be learned, and I firmly believe that every brand has the potential to tell great stories across their content.
I’ve always loved writing, but it’s at the University of Southampton that I discovered how much I love learning about writing, developing as each of us must develop if we’re to succeed in our chosen field.
“Your success in finding work that you can succeed in is finding work that you care about”, Chief Brand Officer at Once Upon a Farm Jennifer Garner revealed, sitting on the keynote stage the day before Bryan. This is as true for your business as it is for your content team. To really elevate your copywriting, hire a writer who lives and breathes their job (these are my tips for hiring a standout content writer) or leverage your marketing agency’s copywriters.
“BabelQuest has professionally supported our business for the last 12 months. During this time, Tom has worked very closely with the VFE management team to create personal and unique voices for us as individuals and collectively for the organisation. I didn't fully appreciate how silent our business was in what we had to offer until Tom created a confident voice, which we now use to effortlessly communicate with our customers.” David Byrne, CEO, VFE
Speaking on stage last week, Bryan could have stood up and told us in plain terms all about his initiative and what it does. But how much more engaging it was to experience the seminal events that have shaped his path, to hear first-hand about the issues his initiative is tackling and the real impact social inequality has on millions of Americans today. I hope my favourite content marketing rule helps you achieve the same in your content.
“Consumers can feel it”, said John Foraker, Once Upon a Farm’s co-founder, on-stage beside Jennifer. “They know [authenticity]. We are speaking our heart, which is what people want companies to do.” What is your content saying about your company?
I’d love to know your thoughts on this. What’s stopping you from speaking your brand’s heart and how has storytelling helped you to engage your customers and grow your business? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message by clicking the link below."